Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. Recently we have made the decision to expand and diversify the blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at We are especially seeking submissions in one of the five topic areas:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research
  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest
  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology
  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom
  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

This blog is intended to be a forum for graduate students and educators to share ideas and express their opinions about tried-and-true modern teaching practices and other currently relevant topics regarding graduate students’ teaching.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf.

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 29 Jul 2017 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Michelle ("Mikki") Hebl, Ph.D., Psychology and Professor of Management, Rice University

    I was asked to write a blog post and offer some “teaching tips for graduate student instructors amidst modern teaching environments.” I will offer just one piece of advice for graduate students. It’s hard to believe I will offer only ONE piece of advice if you know me because I am chock-full of free advice and lots of words. But here it is – advice for students who may range from potentially nervous, first-timers in the classroom to those who have been teaching their own sections or classes for 4-5 years already.  I offer this tip regarding evolving technology-related practices with the belief that it might be relevant regardless of current and future technological and pedagogical advances.

    My caveat is that my advice is NOT based on much research, at least not in a knowingly reference supported, experimentally derived, or quantitative, large-sample-size sense. Instead, my straightforward advice comes from my idiographic experiences; from watching others; and from talking to other faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. The advice may not be a blanket recommendation and lead to efficacy for all but it is based on a basic conclusion that I have drawn from teaching for 25 years at a combination of the following hodgepodge of places: Rice, Dartmouth, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, and on Semester at Sea programs.

    So here it is. I offer you my anti-technology advice about modern teaching environments. Sorry if you were expecting otherwise

    Please consider dissuading the use of computers, iPads, cellphones, or similar electronic devices in the classroom.

    There is a reason that driving accidents increase as people answer their phones, text, apply their makeup, fiddle with their music, or do any of the other hundreds of crazy things people try to do at the same time they are driving. Take it from me – the daughter of a driver’s education teacher who has heard and seen lots of memorable things – and as someone who personally has changed from work clothes into a bathing suit on the way to masters swim class… while driving (yes, an officer stopped me). These things take our attention away from what we are trying to do. And so it is the same in the classroom. We divide our attention and take it away from the valuable messages that the teacher is trying to deliver to us.  But... you might have a knee-jerk response, especially if you are one of those classroom electronic users… ”my mind wanders so much that I’m not learning anyway,” “at least I’m learning something on my device as I’m listening to some monotone teacher drone on and on,” or “surely I can multi-task and answer a few emails or check the headlines at the same time.” But I would argue… NOT without the potential of a lot of lost learning and without the possibility of mind wandering and getting further distracted.

    This semester will be the third semester I have begun this practice in my undergraduate classes and I will initiate it in my graduate classes in future semesters. Of course, there are always exceptions to each rule and if a student has a convincing argument (e.g., disability) for using electronics in the classroom, I will likely be open to it

    But I would like to tell y’all how I came to my opinion that we should go back to a less technological world in the classroom (or at least one without the use of what I will call “computers without boundaries”).  The reason is NOT because people forget to lower the volume on their computers and they make very disruptive noises or because the phone has gone off many times in my classrooms. It is not because I have a personal vendetta against computers. I prize and love my MacBook Air. It is not because I want to make students mad. I assure you, my students are some of my favorite people in the world.

    Instead, two experiences led me to this conclusion. First, I had the wonderful experience of evaluating my colleague’s teaching performance when she was going up for tenure. She is a gifted teaching and there are no known (!) reports of students who would describe her as boring or unskilled at teaching. Then, it amazed me, as I watched from the back of the class and unbeknownst to most students, I noticed just how many of them were on their laptops doing completely random and none-class related activities. Many were reading the news, some were surfing, others were all over Facebook looking up pictures, some were doing emails and texting, and three people were playing video games. I have to admit two of them were doing videogames that I watched for about three minutes and then saw out of the corner of my eye on and off again for the rest of the class. The videogame was a Texas duel in which the object was to shoot the opponent faster than they could shoot you. Granted, this sort of videogaming during lectures may become really important given Texas’s new law that allows students to carry concealable guns into the classroom (and in September, Texans can open carry swords… but don’t get me started here… ). Students have become unabashedly bold about using their laptops to do work unrelated to note-taking during classes. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm.  When did it become the norm, when a teacher is talking, to not give him or her your full attention and try to learn from the expert as much as you possibly can?  I’m not cynical. I’m not old. Okay, maybe I’m becoming a little of both,  but graduate students becoming burgeoning teachers, let’s shut off the really leaky faucet until we have better stoppers. I argue we are NOT helping our students, rather we might be reinforcing an attention-deficit world. Spoken from someone who seems a little attention deficit.

    Second, I recently taught a graduate student class of a very small number. Very small number. I rather liked each one of these students and they all used their computers throughout the class. Only it became readily apparent to me that one particular student was actually doing all sorts of other work during the class. Every class. If you don’t think we know, you’re wrong. It’s really obvious when we pose a question and pause and you aren’t looking, you are madly typing away with purpose, and you forget to even look up and pretend to be paying attention. Maybe I wasn’t interesting enough. Maybe I was droning on. Maybe the student already knew everything I was trying to teach. Maybe she had other issues that were more pressing.  Or maybe… just maybe… our inability to filter, put boundaries around, or altogether prevent the use of computers and electronic technology has reinforced a culture in which students no longer feel like they have to even play the game of respect in the classroom. I’m not mad at the student. Again, I rather like her. But what it shows me is that the interruption of evolving technology needs to be more carefully considered.  And until then, I’m doing something a little radical. I’m preventing them from entering the classroom. Call it radical. I am one of the last mother holdouts from buying her 13 year-old son a cellphone. Maybe I’ve been on a ship at sea for far too long.  Will I regret having written this ten years from now?  Will I seem like a dinosaur? Probably.  But for now, I wholly recommend that if you are serious about the craft of teaching… if you want to maximize the attention that people direct away from you… if you want people to give their full devotion to the sage things you are hopefully teaching… then, I would highly recommend you make them turn off their devices too.

  • 26 Jul 2017 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Susan A. Nolan, Ph.D., Seton Hall University, Vice President of Diversity and International Relations for STP

    Does your research have an international bent or focus on issues related to diversity? Do you include international or diversity-related content, methods, or examples in your teaching? Do you make efforts to foster an inclusive classroom (or online) environment when you teach? Do you want to expand your research or teaching to embrace issues related to diversity and internationalization? If you answered yes to any of these questions, STP has several current diversity-related and international initiatives that welcome graduate student involvement.

    Project Syllabus. Project Syllabus is a repository of peer-reviewed syllabi for a range of psychology courses. Look specifically under the headings for culture, diversity, and international syllabi, but also scroll through other categories. Many content areas (including clinical, human sexuality, peace, social psychology, special topics, and women and gender) have relevant syllabi. There also is a grant-funded initiative spearheaded by the STP International Relations Committee Chair, Dr. Kelley Haynes-Mendez, to expand the number of syllabi in Project Syllabus from non-U.S. instructors. For more information, see: Now, several of the peer-reviewed syllabi are for courses taught in non-U.S. countries. Scroll the course titles and look at the universities at which the professors teach to identify which ones are from countries other than the U.S. Beyond exploring syllabi for ideas for your own courses, consider submitting a syllabi for peer review. Guidelines for creating an excellent syllabus and the rubric used by peer reviewers are posted on the Project Syllabus Web site.

    International Conferences. Consider attending a conference outside the U.S. STP now has a Director of International Programming, Dr. Dana Dunn. Dana is targeting at least one international teaching conference each year where STP is a co-sponsor and has a physical presence for recruitment of new members. STP-sponsored conferences are listed here: If you attend any of the sponsored conferences, contact Dr. Dana Dunn ( if you want to volunteer at the STP table. Volunteering is a great way to give back to STP and to network at the same time.

    International Twitter Poster Conference. No travel money? Participate in STP’s annual International Twitter Poster Conference, begun in 2016. With an organizing committee headed by Dr. Anna Ropp, the conference typically occurs toward the end of the fall semester. Both graduate students and faculty members are encouraged to tweet teaching-related posters, and there are several prizes of a free STP membership for one year. Watch the various STP social media outlets and newsletters for more information. Note that you are welcome tweet a poster that you’ve already presented at another conference, so you can get more mileage out of work that you’ve already done and gain a wider audience for your work.

    International Relations Committee and Diversity Committee. From time to time, the International Relations Committee, Diversity Committee, and International Twitter Poster Conference Committee seek new members. Keep an eye on STP’s Get Involved Website for opportunities. All of these committees would welcome a GSTA member on their rosters.

  • 23 Jul 2017 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Sue Frantz, Professor of Psychology at Highline College

    Having spent my career – 26 years and counting – teaching Intro Psych, I have had a lot of time to think about Intro Psych. What is its purpose? Why have I spent so many of my waking hours – and some of my sleeping hours! – teaching this course?

    Somewhere over a million students take the course annually. The vast majority of those students are not psychology majors. They are going into the fields of business, politics, engineering, and medicine, to name a few. David Myers asks, “What does an educated person need to know about psychology?” I wonder, “If we were to create an Intro Psych course today, from scratch, what would it look like?”

    Of all the courses in the psychology curriculum, Intro Psych is the hardest one to teach. I taught my first Intro course as a graduate student. I felt pretty comfortable with the social psych chapter since that was my area of study. And I felt equally comfortable with the chapter on research methods – correlations and experiments with one independent variable, easy peasy! But after that? After that I relied heavily on the textbook. Sure, I had taken classes devoted to some of those chapters as an undergraduate, like abnormal, development, and learning, but that was years ago. And then there were all of those chapters I, frankly, had no formal education about, like sexuality, personality, motivation, emotion, stress. Like everyone else who is teaching Intro Psych for the first (second, third…, nth) time, I learned from the textbook, right along with my students – or, more accurately, about one chapter ahead of my students. The Intro course is arguably the one course where we, as instructors, are most heavily reliant on our textbooks. I’m not a cognition researcher; I have no idea what the key concepts are in cognition. I’m happy to have someone else figure it out and deliver it to me (and my students!) in a 40-page chapter.

    I relied on the textbook to tell me what the general public needs to know about psychology, although I didn’t think of it that way. I just thought, here’s the textbook, students need to learn what’s in the textbook, and I’m here to help them do that – and to assess to what extent they have done that.

    Then textbooks started to expand in size, drifting toward the encyclopedic. Intro Psych instructors spent quite a bit of time discussing depth vs. breadth. Those in the depth camp liberally cut content (e.g., motivation, emotion, intelligence, language), opting to spend more time on a select number of concepts. Those in the breadth camp covered a wider swath of content, opting to help students see how many different kinds of questions psychology addresses. While I’ve been a part of many of those discussions, I don’t recall anywhere we addressed the origin of the content itself. We took the textbook as gospel. That’s the pool of content we are to draw from.

    As research started to mount showing that our Intro Psych students don’t remember much after the course is over (e.g., Landrum & Gurung, 2013), the discussion shifted. There were those who were ready to toss content out altogether. “Let’s teach skills, such as information literacy and research methods, and not worry about the content.” But there were plenty who weren’t quite ready to let content go. Some think we should take a myth-busting approach to teaching content (e.g., Bernstein, 2016): “Let’s find out what misconceptions students have and address those.” Others think we should be more applied in what we teach: “If it applies to students’ lives – self-reference effect, people! – students will remember content.”

    And once again, the content of our textbooks – what we all use as a foundation to build our courses, regardless of our approach or our emphasis – remains undiscussed.

    A number of years ago I had a conversation with an Intro Psych textbook author who had just joined an existing set of authors to work on a new edition. When a textbook is new or is going into a new edition, faculty are asked to review a few textbook chapters. I, for example, would most often choose social psych (my area), research methods (I’m always on solid footing there), and sensation/perception/learning/memory (one of those because I find them fun to teach). While I was happy to offer my thoughts, I never quite grasped the impact of my words.

    The author gave me an example of the problem she saw throughout the textbook. When the chapter reviews came back for the neuroscience chapter, she said, the biopsych/neuroscience folks advised the authors to remove everything about the action potential. The action potential isn’t important to us, they said. Focus on the synapse and the neurotransmitters; that’s where the drama is. But when the authors looked at the reviews of that exact same content submitted by the cognitive, social, development, etc. folks, they all demanded that the action potential stay. Why? “Because I teach that!” And now it’s just the physics of economics. There were many more reviewers standing on the “keep it!” side of the scale than on the “ditch it!” side of the scale. The action potential stayed. As a biopsych colleague pointed out to me, the action potential does not appear in the Intro Psych textbooks outside of that initial coverage of the neuron.

    Our textbooks are crowd-sourced from a crowd that shouldn’t have an opinion.

    What other content in your Intro Psych textbook is “legacy” content – content that was put in the textbook at one time and now can’t be removed because a lot of instructors say, even though it’s not in their field of study, “I teach that!”?

    With that said, let’s all step away from the textbooks. Let’s take a collective deep breath. And let’s ask each other, “1.) What does an educated person need to know about psychology? 2.) If we were to create an Intro Psych course today, from scratch, what would it look like?”


    Bernstein, D. (2016, January 6). Bye-bye Intro. Address presented at National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology in Tradewinds, St. Petersburg Beach.

    Landrum, R. E., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2013). The memorability of Introductory Psychology revisited. Teaching of Psychology, 40(3), 222-227. doi:10.1177/0098628313487417

  • 10 Jul 2017 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Harold Takooshian, Ph.D., Fordham University and CUNY'79

    "How important are mentors?" For better or worse, the answer could not be more clear. What is more inspiring than a good mentor, or more miserable than a bad mentor? This experience likely shapes our entire career. Here, I share with GSTA students five points to consider about mentors.

    1. Indispensible. A mentor is "a trusted counselor," a term that dates from Greek mythology, where far-away Odysseus entrusted his family to the care of Mentor. By any name, mentors have always been an indispensible part of formal education, from Plato's Academy to the Han dynasty in ancient China.

    2. Inspiration. In April of 2017 at CUNY (photo 1 below), super-mentor Florence Denmark chaired a panel where 9 celebrated psychologists from many institutions spoke briefly on their own mentor, with a few notable results: (a) We all found ourselves inspired to hear these noted mentors describe with such affection the deep impact of their own mentor. (b) These mentors noted how they benefitted from more than one mentor, for different stages or parts of their career as a student, then ECP. (c) They agreed their mentor's support was pivotal for them. They would not have achieved so much without their mentors, and try to pass this on to their own students.

    3. Variation. The 35 graduate psychology programs in Greater New York City (Bonet & Takooshian, 2015) have a well-earned reputation for being highly varied in their mentoring. At the negative extreme, faculty in some schools are rewarded for research more than teaching, so students need luck to find a caring mentor, and must struggle to earn their doctorate. At the positive extreme, faculty in other schools understand teaching and mentoring to be key roles, to build up their students. If we view these 35 schools are gardens, some emphasize weeding out students while others emphasize nurturing students--and most fall in between.

    4. Legacy. I recall when a new PhD was just starting her teaching career, and looked visibly confused when a notoriously bad mentor cynically advised her, "They do it to you, then you do it to them." Fortunately, what is true in the negative, can be true in the positive as well--as we see teachers try to "get even" with their beloved mentor by becoming a beloved mentor themselves. In fact, CUNY alumna Elyse Goldstein (1979) published this finding from her 2x2 analysis, documenting this fact, that same-sex mentorships actually correlate with higher alumnus productivity after the doctorate.

    5. CUNY-GC. It is no accident that CUNY-GC is the current home of the GSTA. Even when I was a student in the 1970s in GC, the entire campus and its 10-program psychology department were legendary for gifted faculty who combined teaching and research excellence (photo 2 below). Even the most busy professors like Florence Denmark and Morton Bard made it a point to join students at the weekly Wednesday colloquium. Though my mentor Stanley Milgram had an international reputation for research, he was a devoted teacher for his entire 24-year career, from 1960 through the day he died on December 20, 1984, four hours after he chaired Christina Taylor's dissertation defense (Takooshian, 2000). In fact, in my experience, it is the best researchers who make the best mentors (Takooshian, 1991).


    Bonet, C., & Takooshian, H. (2015). Checklist of graduate psychology programs in Greater New York. Presentation to the 27th Greater New York Conference on Psychology.

    Goldstein, E. (1979). Effect of same-sex and cross-sex role models on the subsequent academic productivity of scholars. American Psychologist, 34(5), 407-410.

    Takooshian, H. (1991). Research, teaching, and the question of interaction. NYS Psychologist, 41(1), 44-56.

    Takooshian, H. (2000). How Stanley Milgram taught about obedience and social influence. In T. Blass (Ed.), Obedience to authority: Current perspectives on the Milgram paradigm (pp. 9-24). Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.

    * Note: Harold Takooshian, PhD, is on the Fordham faculty since 1975, where he is Professor of Psychology, Urban Studies, and Organizational Leadership. He earned his PhD at CUNY-GC in 1979, and was elected a Fellow of the APA Society for Teaching of Psychology in 1990. Address any inquiries to

    Photo 1. At CUNY in 2017, 9 mentors described their great mentors (listed from left to right): Dinesh Sharma (SUNY), Florence Denmark (CUNY/Pace), Elaine Congress (Fordham), Leonard Davidman (NYSPA), Henry Solomon (Marymount Manhattan), Jason Young (Hunter), Uwe Gielen (St. Francis), Harold Takooshian (Fordham), Machiko Fukuhara (Tokyo)

    (photo courtesy of Harold Takooshian)

    Photo 2. CUNY-GC Social-personality faculty around 1974.

    (photo courtesy of Michelle Fine)

    Photo 3. One legendary psychology mentor was Professor Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman, whose daughter Gladys was inspired to launch an annual $25,000 Mentor Award in her mother's name. One of Dr. Beckman's students at Penn was Florence Denmark (later of CUNY-GC), who received the 2013 Beckman Award. The photo below shows five generations of mentors: Drs. Beckman, Denmark, Takooshian, Linda Hamilton (of the NYC Ballet), and Valerie Radetzky.

    (photo courtesy of Harold Takooshian)

  • 05 Jun 2017 12:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Charles Raffaele

    A class full of learners with different home ('heritage' and/or marginalized) languages that these students could conceivably bring to the table, but with often no conceivable avenue for bringing these in for real. Is this a situation in your class, as it often is in mine? Well, perhaps there are some solutions to this problem. In this piece, I will outline and use as a jumping-off point some research on multilingual classrooms, which addresses both what underlies this language issue in education and ways that the language of the classroom can be opened up for the benefit of all.

     I will start off with the paper that blew me away most on this topic. Busch (2014), taking from a study conducted on a multigrade (1st-4th grade) class in Germany, has a lot it can teach to us college instructors (despite the substantial age difference). It describes a classroom where the teacher and learners can each assume dominant positions (based on degree of ability with each given language), students could speak on topics of interest taboo for the classroom through assignments which allow expression through metaphor, and resultant ‘little books’ could be created that are multivoiced (created through collaboration by many, though with the principal author being the individual child) and multidiscursive (free in genre of medium utilized and topic focused on).

     Setati (2005), on the other hand, provides a description of what I myself would assess to be the least fully tapped vision of the multilingual classroom. It describes the instruction of a teacher in South Africa who uses multiple languages in her mathematics classroom but must rely on English for the actual math instruction itself, given English as the "language of learning and teaching (LoLT)". Though it is fantastic that the teacher could incorporate the languages of her students on some level, thus acknowledging the identity of her students as legitimate (particularly in a country like South Africa, where, as Setati [2005] highlights, language is entwined with politics and the country’s ugly history of racism, predominantly against its black majority population), bringing home languages in for non-instructional (e.g. procedural) matters is not as high an acknowledgement as truly full implementation of multilingualism in instruction. The future of our educational system will be forever limited if students' cultural competencies (of which language is often a major element) are not given their proper due as resources to be brought to the table for the best collaborative alchemy to take place.

     The documentary “Yo Dude, Cosa Wena Kyk A? – The Multilingual Classroom” (Achmat, 1992) (the phrase in the title being a multiple-language phrase presented in the film by a student, translating in English to “Yo dude, what you looking at?”) shows to our eyes and ears how multilingual activities may take place in a classroom. Echoing the malleability of teacher/learner roles described in Busch (2014), learners are seen here becoming teachers, and teachers becoming learners. The zeal that students are witnessed to be able to show for learning portions of many different languages in this video is remarkable.

     Political issues behind the resistance to including students' heritage languages in the classroom are discussed in Cummins (2005). Xenophobia about immigration and linguistic diversity are mentioned here as roadblocks to sound policy. Challenging the assumption that languages are best kept separate from each other (including in both traditional and bilingual schools) is emphasized as an important step in recognizing the heritage language as a learning resource. The paper suggests such methods as emphasizing cognate relationships between languages (keep in mind, for example, that English contains words from such wide-ranging languages as Arabic, various European languages, Hindi, Chinese, and various African languages), the class creating dual language books as in Busch (2014), and usage of sister class projects (i.e. taking advantage of the inter-cultural/lingual opportunities available in coordinating two classes to work together on the same project).

     Instructors should strive for a healthy and future-oriented intermingling of languages in the college classroom, and make efforts to include specifically-allotted time and energy for accomplishing this purpose. The goal is then not simply recognition of students’ heritage languages as valuable in the conversational or procedural interim between learning, but instead integrated into the learning process itself. This set of directives (which is, by the way, not only to all of you but myself as well) is not simply a suggestion for the sake of humanly treating our students as the individuals they are, but a way to attempt to maximize the work we can do in our classes and more broadly advance academia and ultimately transform our society. This push might even guide your research into previously unconsidered realms as well; for example, when do you plan to do your study on vacilando?

    Page on Spanish word “vacilando” from book “Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World”; the book was mentioned by a student during my class and, the week after, brought in by said student to be passed around for everyone to take a look at.


     Achmat, Z. (Producer & Writer). (1992). Yo Dude, Cosa Wena Kyk A? – The Multilingual Classroom [Documentary film]. South Africa: The National Language Project. Retrieved from .

     Busch, B. (2014). Building on heteroglossia and heterogeneity: The experience of a multilingual classroom. In Heteroglossia as practice and pedagogy (pp. 21-40). Springer Netherlands.

     Cummins, J. (2005). A proposal for action: Strategies for recognizing heritage language competence as a learning resource within the mainstream classroom. Modern Language Journal, 585-592.

     Sanders, E. F. (2014). Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. United States: Ten Speed Press.

     Setati, M. (2005). Teaching mathematics in a primary multilingual classroom. Journal for research in Mathematics Education, 447-466.

  • 20 May 2017 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Rita Obeid and Jeremy Sawyer, The Graduate Center and City University of New York, CUNY

    For new psychology instructors, designing a writing assignment is often the last thing on our minds. We may be scrambling to prepare a syllabus for new course, mastering unfamiliar content (since psychology has multiple subfields), or organizing a series of slide-based lectures. In the mad dash of course prep, the potential learning benefits of student writing can be easily overlooked.

    When our thoughts finally do turn to writing, we may wonder: Do my students really need to write? Won’t they get plenty of practice in writing-intensive courses? As a graduate student instructor, do I even have time to read and grade writing for a class of 50 or 100? In this blog, we aim to demonstrate that engaging students through writing not only helps them to learn more deeply, but is entirely manageable and beneficial to you as an instructor.

    To learn, students need to actively engage in course material, whether through discussion, group projects, hands-on experience, or writing. An approach called writing-to-learn is a way of encouraging students to enhance their understanding by thinking through important course concepts using writing (Zinsser, 1988). The primary goal is not to improve students’ writing skills in general (though that may occur), but to promote critical thinking, expressive skills, and student reflection on course material (Bensley & Haynes, 1995). Having students reflect on their learning through the use of brief writing assignments (whether in class or at home) can promote this full range of skills. We will illustrate this process with some brief, low-stakes writing assignments that we used to help students grapple with new concepts in our Developmental Psychology classes.

    We have found that students often do not have a clear perspective on a topic until they are required to reflect on the topic, connect it to their own experiences, and to try putting their thoughts on paper. In our Developmental Psychology courses, we wanted to avoid bombarding our students with endless PowerPoint slides that dulled their senses as they explained developmental concepts. Thus, along with five other graduate students we chose eight key concepts in Developmental Psychology (e.g., attachment, joint attention, Piaget’s stages, etc.) and created 8 lessons featuring active learning activities for use in our classes. To get students’ cognitive wheels spinning, we began each lesson with a “Question of the Day” that asked students to connect their everyday experience to the concept at hand. When teaching joint attention, for instance, our question was “Do you make eye contact with others in social situations? Do you think eye contact is important? Why or why not?” This was followed by a brief instructor-led illustration of the concept, and then a YouTube video which depicted one child engaging in joint attention, and another child who struggled with establishing joint attention. To get students observing and thinking deeply about what they saw in the video, we provided a series of brief writing prompts - known as “minute papers” - to be written on the spot (See Figure 1).

    The goal of this brief writing activity was not to produce a masterpiece of writing, but rather to have students “think through writing” about what behaviors they observed, what they could infer about each child’s ability to establish joint attention, and how joint attention might help the children’s social, cognitive, and linguistic development. These brief writing assignments do not need to be graded (or even collected) by the instructor, they merely use the process of writing for the students’ own benefit. Using anecdotal feedback from students, as well as assessment data we collected in our classes, using these brief writing prompts led to higher student learning, as measured by short quizzes requiring students to demonstrate understanding and application of these developmental concepts. Below is a sample of some slides and writing prompts from a lesson module that we used in one of our courses.


    In addition to brief in-class writing, we also assigned weekly written responses to a question pertaining to that week’s lesson. Below is a sample weekly writing prompt:

    Assignment 1: What is Your Theory of Human Development?

    Whether we are conscious of it or not, we live our daily lives using some type of “theory” of development. Try to describe your current theory (or theories) of development, answering the following questions in approximately two paragraphs.

     What causes humans to become the people that they become?

          What do you think are the most important factors that influence development?

          What causes us to change?

          What causes us to remain the same?

    So how much time do we spend grading these assignments? The truth is, we have two methods: no stakes and low-stakes. In the no-stakes approach, we typically have the short writing assignments (e.g. question of the day) count as students’ attendance, after quickly skimming to make sure they made an effort. For low-stakes writing we skim the assignment for the basic ideas communicated and give the student a grade of 0, 1, or 2 depending on effort and a few simple criteria. In sum, we recommend that you start with a few brief writing prompts dispersed through each class session that will get students thinking more deeply about what you are learning that day. We promise that the minimal time spent reading and marking them will more than pay off in student learning, as well as your insight into students’ experiences and understanding of course material!

    Figure 1. Sample slides from one of the modules on joint attention


    Bensley, D. A., & Haynes, C. (1995). The acquisition of general purpose strategic knowledge for argumentation. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 41-45.

    Zinsser, W. (1988). Writing to Learn: How to Write-and Think-Clearly about Any Subject at All. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.

  • 14 Apr 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Ashley Davis

    On October 13, 2016, the American Psychological Association (APA) detailed findings from a survey that indicated that the 2016 presidential election was a significant source of stress for more than half of American adults, both Democrats and Republicans (APA, 2016). Thirty-eight percent of adults attributed this stress to “political and cultural discussions on social media.” Long story short, we were all feeling the heat!

    Last semester was different for me as well. I was finally feeling like I had hit my stride as an educator. Something no one tells you is that if you do it right and care for your students, the teaching becomes both your greatest joy and the thing you lose sleep over at night. Being a graduate student and an adjunct professor is like finding the balance between giving, and keeping enough for yourself.

    I was assigned to teach Human Development, an introductory course in the Psychology Department that encompasses physical, emotional, and cognitive development from conception until death. The course is a lot of everything, but there are several dominant themes that run through a critical study of human development. Unfortunately, inequality is one of them. The text I was using for the course didn’t waste any time making that point. In chapter 2, students are introduced to how public policy decisions influence or intersect with human development, how developmental outcomes look very different across neighborhoods, and how a history of housing segregation in this country still matters today.

    My students hailed from more than 10 different countries and spoke more than 10 languages as a group. They were Muslim, immigrants, young women and young men of color, and a major party candidate for president of the United States had already spoken of banning Muslims from the country, mocked a disabled reporter, and bragged about sexually assaulting women. They were young Americans who were suddenly questioning everything and they wanted to talk about it, to ask questions, to challenge each other’s ideas, but they were nervous. In the rest of their interactions, these conversations had not been going well. I endeavored to make our space safe enough for them to feel open enough to try. The research suggests that stereotypes and hatred are challenged in instances where people must take on another’s perspective (Broockman & Kalla, 2016). The election was stressful, but it also highlighted the fact that as a country we are not very good at talking.

    I have a few lines I always say to my students in one form or another: “This classroom is a safe space where you are free to disagree with everyone, especially me, but you must disagree in a respectful manner. Nothing is true just because I say it. Disagreeing with me might feel weird at first, but it’s necessary.” I then make sure I create a classroom environment where it is clear that I don’t possess all of the knowledge. Once when we were discussing how education varies globally, I simply opened the floor to all of the students who completed their K-12 schooling careers in another country. I joked with them asking why they were asking me when there were experts present.

    Another thing I did was set up an FYI folder on Blackboard where I gave them as many things to read as I could. In my experience, being exposed to the ways others craft academic arguments makes you better at crafting your own. When I brought optional articles to class I never had any extra copies to bring home. One of the articles I assigned for homework towards the end of the semester was a reading I had been assigned in one of my doctoral level classes: a chapter on linguistic domination (Heller & Martin Jones, 2001). A student wrote a reaction to that article that I’ll never stop thinking or talking about. Many nights they kept me on my toes and became formidable debate opponents.

    A third thing that happened is that we found a way to keep politics out of the classroom. The way we accomplished this was simple, we critiqued policy, and policy decisions, societal characteristics and differential access without mentioning anyone by name. We realized that in reality neither candidate had done a good job discussing things like healthcare, public education, or environmental protections, things that our class discussions made us realize were important.

    The final and most important thing I did was to try to see them as whole people and not just students. When something particularly difficult occurred like the dumpster bombing in Chelsea (Wilson, Schmidt, & Nir, 2016), we would talk about it. Instead of making my students request off for Eid-al-Adha (one of the holiest days in the Muslim faith, during a time of increased hate crimes against Muslims) I simply let them know that if they observed a religious holiday that the university did not recognize missing class wouldn’t be a problem. The day after election day, knowing many students would want to go protest and recognizing the importance of them doing so, I told them that I understood if there were other places they felt they needed to be. In my experience as an Early Childhood educator, we call this the whole child approach. This approach to early childhood seeks to offer cognitive, creative, constructive, and community engagement learning experiences to all learners everyday. Last semester I brought this approach to my college students because in the era of fake news my lecturing seemed incredibly insufficient; all of us are a part of this country’s future.

    I couldn’t tell you one way or another if students liked this approach. I didn’t survey them at the end of the semester. There are, however, a few things I know for sure. The first is that their final presentations were phenomenal. The second is that the class did change perspectives. One of my toughest critics said that the class made him hopeful about our country’s future. Recently, I’ve run into a few of them on campus – the reunions are always joyful. Somehow, in all of that stress, we carved out a space of rigorous scholarship. A space where I learned more than I taught. A space where we managed to learn together and from each other.

    American Psychological Association (2016, Oct. 13). APA Survey Reveals 2016 Presidential Election Source of Significant Stress for More Than Half of Americans. APA Press Release. [Online]. Retrieved from

    Broockman, D. & Kalla, J. (2016). Durably reducing transphobia: A field experiment on door-to-door canvassing. Science, 352(6282), 220-224.

    Heller, M & Martin-Jones, M. (2001). Introduction: Symbolic domination, education, and linguistic difference. In Heller, M. & Martin-Jones, M. (eds). 2001. Voices of Authority: Education and Linguistic Difference. Westport, Conn: Ablex.

    Schmidt, S. (2016, Aug. 28). Muslim Holy Day on Sept. 11? Coincidence Stirs Fears. New York Times. [Online]. Retrieved from

    Wilson, M., Schmidt, S. & Nir, S. M. (2016, Sept. 18). After Blast, New Yorkers Examine Themselves for Psychological Shrapnel. New York Times. [Online]. Retrieved from

  • 30 Mar 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Teresa Ober

    Since 2007, the members of various Psychology NGOs at the United Nations have been active in organizing an event that has gained increasing precedence in recent years. “Psychologists have been actively engaged at the UN for a long time,” commented Dr. Ayorkor Gaba, the current Co-chair of Psychology Day, an American Psychological Association (APA) Representative to the UN, as well as a central figure in the organization of the event. Dr. Gaba continued by commenting that “For the past 10 years, Psychology representatives at the UN have been hosting the Psychology Day at the UN to highlight Psychology’s contributions to the UN Agenda.” Now in its 10th inception, Psychology Day at the United Nations continues to attract a wide range of individuals from across broad disciplines both within and peripheral to the field of Psychology. Each year, the organizers focus on timely issues that impact the psychology of humanity on a global basis. Last year, the theme of the event focused on the psychological well-being of refugees and migrants. This year, the theme focuses on the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 3): Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for for all. The conference aims to provide insights into how an understanding of psychological processes may contribute with respect to the social, economic, and environmental pillars of the UN.

    As it has in the past several years, Psychology Day at the UN this year will provide an opportunity for experts and students across the field of psychology to share in a learning experience within the confines of the famous grounds of the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. Many who teach psychology with an emphasis on international, cross-cultural or multi-cultural issues may already encourage their students to attend.

    “For the most part, students get much of their information from lectures and textbooks,” stated Dr. Comfort Asanbe, Associate Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island CUNY and APA Representative to the UN. This format of transmitting information can be problematic particularly when trying to support students in understanding the complex ways that human beings are affected when their human rights are not recognized. Dr. Asanbe continued, expressing that “Attending Psychology Day at the United Nations event provides a unique opportunity for students to experience the dissemination of psychological information derived from principles and scientific studies, to the world body.” Dr. Asanbe further conveyed that “This has applied value for the development of policies that have the potential to better psychological health at the global level. In essence, if the stakeholders adopt and implement relevant information presented at this forum, this will be a strong justification for all the efforts put into hosting the Psychology Day at the UN.” Speaking to the power of taking action, Dr. Asanbe emphasized that “Students can read about each of the topics that will be presented at this UN event, but I believe that being there in that setting, will be quite an experience that they will not get sitting in their classrooms.”

    More information about the event can be found here: . Those who plan to attend are encouraged to register as soon as possible and no later than April 7 as registration is required to attend.

    A special thank you to both Dr. Ayorkor Gaba, Dr. Comfort Asanbe, and Dr. Janet Sigal for their support in writing this piece!

  • 13 Mar 2017 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Amy Silvestri Hunter, Ph.D., Seton Hall University

    I remember the first course I taught like it was yesterday: Biological Psychology at the University of Vermont. I was in my last year of graduate school and like many of my peers, I offered to teach an evening section of a course in my area of specialization to gain teaching experience and earn some extra money. I distinctly remember the paralysis that overtook me as I realized how many decisions needed to be made about the design of the course: What text should I use? Would I try to cover all the topics in the text, or just some? If the latter, which topics should I prioritize? How much material should I cover in class, and how much of the textbook material should students be responsible for on their own? How should student grades be determined?

    I quickly realized the path of least resistance was to design my course with basically the same format as the large, daytime section taught by my PhD advisor. I had served as the TA for that course and knew that model worked for him and the students, who consistently gave him and the course high evaluations. With a syllabus in hand that was basically a clone of his (with permission, of course!) I moved onto issues that were important as a new instructor but now seem obvious (e.g. what do I do if a student asks a question but I don’t know the answer? – look it up and get back to them) or irrelevant (e.g. how do I maintain a sense of authority despite my relatively young age? – a problem that has resolved itself with time).

    While many aspects of teaching remain the same since my first experience, other aspects have become more complicated. Faculty are expected to develop learning objectives and course goals, use innovative teaching techniques, have multiple assessment strategies, and to some extent accommodate the varying backgrounds of our students. While the standard “sage on the stage” still has its supporters and can be used to great effect, our perspective on teaching and our role as professors has changed greatly over the years. There is now a wealth of pedagogical research that we can use to guide our decisions about course design. Although this new research is undoubtedly beneficial for our students as it requires us to be much more deliberate in the course-related decisions we make, it can also be overwhelming for new faculty members.

    One approach that can make the task of course creation somewhat less daunting is to obtain sample syllabi. While you can (and should!) ask members of your professional network for their syllabi and course suggestions, there are other resources. One of these is Project Syllabus, a peer-reviewed compendium of syllabi coordinated by APA’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology (Division 2). Project Syllabus includes over 200 syllabi across a wide range of Psychology courses, from Introductory Psychology to upper-level seminars and even graduate courses. Each syllabus is reviewed using a newly revised rubric (available on the website) that was developed based on findings from the scholarship of teaching and learning.

    The new rubric is organized into five categories:

    • Teaching Methods: An exemplary course includes teaching methods that follow best practices. This can include things like critical thinking and problem solving, new teaching methods, multimedia use, etc. as appropriate for the particular course. An exemplary course also effectively engages students in the learning process in a variety of ways (i.e., the course is not solely lecture and exam based).
    • Learner Support & Resources: An exemplary syllabus clearly states faculty roles and responsibilities, student roles and expectations, methods for student-faculty and student-student interaction, and uses principles of universal design for learning.
    • Assessment & Evaluation of Student Learning: An exemplary course includes assignments that are consistent with best practice pedagogy, clear guidelines for student evaluation, opportunities for formative student performance feedback, and multiple forms of assessment.
    • Course Design, Goals, & Learning Objectives: An exemplary syllabus clearly states the rationale for the course and its design and has clearly defined course goals that are linked to measurable learning objectives. Class time allocation is aligned with learning objectives, which are aligned with assessment.
    • Syllabus Organization & Design: an exemplary syllabus is well organized, aesthetically designed, has a warm tone, and is free of grammatical problems, typographical errors, etc. Required materials are clearly stated, relevant, and current.

    One way in which Project Syllabus may be useful to new faculty is to provide a sense of how others in the field design their courses. What learning objectives and course goals do they specify? What types of assignments do they require? What textbook do they use? While there is no single “correct” way to design a course, looking at how others do so can provide new faculty with an idea of best practices for a particular course.

    Another use of Project Syllabus is to provide a source of novel ideas for course design and assignments. For example, what are some alternatives to exams for assessment of student learning? How might students demonstrate their knowledge of a particular topic other than the traditional literature review? How can writing assignments be used to provide students with job-related skills? How can assignments be structured to improve student learning?

    Finally, Project Syllabus has recently revised its rubric to be consistent with the results of research in the scholarship of teaching and learning. These references are also posted on the Project Syllabus web page, and I encourage you to look them over as there may be individual articles that are particularly relevant to your course.

    While the syllabus for your first course (or even first few courses) may not cover all items on the rubric, the document distills some of the relevant literature and provides specific outcomes that you can incorporate as you refine your courses over time. Once you have a syllabus that meets the criteria on the rubric, please consider submitting it for review and possible publication on the Project Syllabus website!

    For more information about Project Syllabus, check it out:!

  • 05 Mar 2017 12:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Teresa Ober

    A recent cover article published in the "Monitor on Psychology" (March 2017) provided some more information about how access to mobile technologies can affect our lives from a psychological perspective. For more information, please consider reading the article. The reference and link is posted below:

    Weir, K. (March, 2017). (Dis)Connected: Psychologists' research shows how smartphones are affecting our health and well-being, and points the way toward taking back control. Monitor on Psychology, 48(3).  Retrieved online from

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software